Season 7, Episode 17: Wayne Man

*sigh*

What a morning, y’all. I’m sorry this review is late. It went up, right at 8AM EST, and three minutes later this was in my inbox:

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I’m not rewriting the post–I’m already an hour late for work–so I just had to go through and redact a bunch of stuff. I’m really sorry about this.

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Balki and Larry voice their voices over stock footage of a plane, flying from airport door to airport door, voiceovering their excitement at going to Las VEGAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.

I was about to call out the Cousins for subjecting the other passengers to some seriously inane dialogue

(Larry: Did you know you can have fun in Vegas?

Balki: Wayne Newton here Vegas.)

but the alternative was them keeping the obese from eating brownies, or turning potatoes into disease vectors, so I’ll leave it alone.

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I think this might be the first time I’ve seen a daytime shot of old Vegas before. Like I said way back in this blog’s infancy, this was the Vegas I romanticized as a child, the Vegas where the 1960s got caught in some timeless pocket: the typography, the Smothers Brothers somehow sweet-talking their way into a revival two decades after their heyday, the sense that it was somewhere grandparents went to have fun.

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Also, did you know Wayne Newton is in Vegas? ██ ███████ ████████ ███ ████!

We find Jennifer, Mary Anne (Sagittarius) and Larry waiting around in a hotel room for Balki to get there so they can find out what this week’s story is.

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Now that Jennifer has let Larry make an *ahem* inside bet (let him go all in, see her perfect pair, break her bank, walk her slots, get down to the felt, in other words, now that the “honeymoon period” is over), he has no reason to pretend to any sort of greatness and openly talks about trying to get out of tipping the bellboy, whom we never see.

Balki won them this all-expenses paid trip to Vegaahhhsss. We aren’t told what funny food product, or silly television program, or even what goofy radio show sponsored this contest, but that’s okay. If I had wanted jokes I would have reviewed some other sitcom.

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Balki slowly, mournfully walks in and heads stage right so the others can all group together on the other side of the room. He falls (forward) on the bed, tearspouting: the last two tickets to Wayne Newton’s show were purchased by the person in front of him in line, who did not understand that Balki was the main character on a sitcom.

Larry explains to Balki that here, in one of the ████ ██████████ organs of the American capitalist system, he (he Balki) has the perfect opportunity to practice its religion. Balki may pay tribute to its local god through the priests (scalpers), in order to receive the blessing of–

Nah, j/k, Larry doesn’t say any of that shit; he suggests they can do other fun things in Vegas. Balki, who was previously delighted by vibrating beds and tits on velvet, says there is no fun without Wayne. He repeats the words, louder and with a different emphasis, not realizing that this isn’t the table read.

Man, Balki’s always such a stick in the mud, always trying to stop Larry from having any fun, isn’t he?

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Psychology sidebar: he’s acting like a child.

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Jennifer instantly starts trying to appease him by saying she can get tickets from any one of the hundreds of politicians, athletes, celebrities, or members of the Illuminati she used to sleep with. One of them–Clint–just happens to live in Vegas, and for once (THE ONE TIME), the show actually manages to give Larry a real reason to be worried about another (white) guy Jennifer knows.

Clint, we learn, has been calling Jennifer periodically to tell her to leave Larry. Clint and Jennifer share an epithet for Larry (“troll”), and she and Mary Anne let freefly their laughter about it.

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Zero indication is given that Jennifer stands up for him to this guy, and she even asks him–in front of the others–if he’s jealous. This kind of thing doesn’t bother me when other sitcoms do it, but what’s different here is that Jennifer directs zero emotion in Larry’s direction. She laughs with Mary Anne, and then removes all expression from her face for the rest of the scene. It reads like complete oversight on the part of the writers that Jennifer would have deliberately given up every standard outward measure of success to be with this man, and then have no feelings for him immediately after.

Alternately, we know that Melanie has an understanding of Jennifer that hardly ever makes it into the final product. Assuming it makes it from inside her head to her performance, I’m curious to know exactly what type of stone Melanie thinks replaced Jennifer’s heart. Larry Appleton struggled for so long to get exactly what he has–status and a beautiful blonde wife–and I’d expect the latter to be some source of comfort for him.

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So, again, the question is who causes Larry more stress: himself or others? There could be a certain pleasure in knowing that your wife is utilizing the men she rejected to get resources to give to you. It’s hard to place the blame on Jennifer for not making any effort to soothe Larry’s jealousy without knowing whether she had reason to stop trying.

But, really, I shouldn’t be asking this question at all three-fourths of the way through the season where they got married. The show has decided that it either doesn’t want to, or doesn’t know how, to change the dynamic between Larry and Jennifer, or between Larry and his own life.

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Balki misunderstands so hard he thinks that Larry (not Jennifer) owns a troll.  Larry does not disabuse him of this idea, meaning the show found its way back here:

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Larry reminds Jennifer that if she touch a phone, he break a bone. Certainly, he asks, his status as a major reporter is enough to procure reserved tickets for Wayne, right?

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Later: oh, yes, of course, the best way to present your press credentials is over the phone.

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Balki comes in, urging Larry to hurry up so they can go to the Liberace Museum. Okay, problem solved! Balki is moving on to other things. Break the news gently and move on.

The show sure does make Larry carry a lot this week. He has to bear the idiocy of his friend, the emotional distance of his wife, and have a whole conversation with a telephone. Now he’s put in a position of forcing the episode to stay on the Waynepath as he reopens Balki’s fresh wounds by bringing it up.

Balki comes in asking Larry to accompany him to the Liberace Museum, Larry says “Wayne Newton’s not so great, let’s go to the Hoover Dam.”

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Then there’s a bit about leaky channels where Balki calls out each of Larry’s tells when he’s lying. Larry’s nostrils flare, he holds his nose; his eyes twitch, he shuts his eyes; his foot taps, he stands on his foot; his skeleton emerges from his butthole and tap dances.

Psychology sidebar: Yes Sir, That Man’s a Baby.

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Why do a scene just once if there’s room to do it twice? We’re just killing time until Wayne shows up.

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I’m not saying that Balki repeatedly flopping down on the bed is worse than the hand-flapping, but Jesus Christ is season 7 not trying very hard. If just repeating something is all it takes to make jokes, I guess repeating something is all it takes to make jokes!

Larry tells everybody to fuck off out of the room if they’re not going to contribute to the plot. On his way out, Balki takes forever to misunderstand to Mary Anne that an ATM is a slot machine.

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Larry calls up the box office again and tells the box officer that Balki is going deaf. Somehow, this person on the other end of the phone, after cursing Larry out for what they assumed was a lie, is now willing to help out on the basis of even less proof.

So, despite the fact that Balki has sung more Streisand and Madonna songs over the past 136 episodes, it’s been established that Wayne is his favorite. I can handle that.

But, you know, maybe I’d care about Balki seeing Wayne Newton if he hadn’t seen him five years ago? If he weren’t making a bigger deal about this than his own grandmother’s death and having to stay in Mypos combined? If it weren’t the case that Balki could just stay an extra day and see Wayne Newton? If it weren’t the case that, a full quarter-century later, you could just pick any random week and go see Wayne Newton in Vegaaahhhsssss? Whatever else you can say about Wayne Newton, he sure ████ ███████ █████████ ██████.

I keep neglecting to point it out in most cases, but Mark Linn-Baker has been shifting his portrayal of Larry into cartoonier territory all season long. Like with Melanie’s performance, I’m not sure where this is coming from; but my guess would be from Mark. I think he has a sense of the overall tone of the scripts he’s given and pushes his portrayal in the same direction. When Larry was a jaded, tentatively-hopeful college graduate, Mark played him as cynical and smug. But Perfect Strangers has scoured off so much of what parts of it reflected reality (Myposian sheep can vote, remember) that Mark is following suit by turning Larry into a cartoon. A lot of it is in how he exaggerates his voice, but here, he’s laughing exactly like an old Looney Tunes bratty kid. Some of it doesn’t strike me as particularly funny, or even really in keeping with the Larry of the past couple of seasons, but it shows that Mark is thinking about the show even when no one else is.

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The harping chords of prelude closed. A chord longdrawn, Wayne Newton sings. You know, I don’t care if this is footage from ten years previous, every minute that Wayne sings is one less minute I’m writing about this show.

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I don’t like to make fun of people’s appearances, but sometimes I think that Wayne Newton was replaced at some point in the 1970s. I’ve never seen anyone go from looking 16 to looking 48 like that. Maybe ██ ███ ████████ ████?

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God dammit, can’t they let a prop be a prop?

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Balki asks Larry which hand he should ██████████ to his memories of the show with.

You know, maybe Larry would have a right to worry about which Nobel Prize winner Jennifer’s screwing if he would bother to stay with her for more than two minutes at a time. If she’s never there, literally everything she does is behind his back.

Anyway, she’s gone for the rest of the episode, and the cousins have just walked into this hotel room like they’re █████████. ███████ █████ ██████ █ ███ ████ ████ ██ ███████. ██████████ ███████ ██ ████████’s got nothing on this!

I’ll admit that I’m a homebody, and I’m not convinced I know how to relax or have fun on a vacation. I backed out of a chance to go to Vegas myself earlier this year when I learned it wouldn’t be a working trip. My enthusiasm and mental energy give out hours before anyone else’s does, and that’s on trips to the countryside. Vegaaaaaaahhhhhhssssss would wear me out in about three hours tops, but I have trouble believing that literally anyone else would go there and call it a night after just a concert.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s the precise facial midpoint between Jason Alexander, Albert Brooks, and Stuart Pankin!

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Balki’s first reaction to Dave Minor’s announcement that he knows Wayne Newton is to ask if he knows Wayne Newton, and then interrupts him to ask about Wayne’s bowel habits, if the man hugged Wayne, if it was true that Wayne was financed by his mob ties, is it true he’s on the verge of bankruptcy, did he feel whether Wayne actually had a █████ when they hugged, did he hug Wayne’s live-in nun, does she have a █████, does Wayne hug the mafia dons when they meet, and if Wayne is going to stay for longer than Carl Lewis did.

Balki spazzes out over the fact that he hugged a man who hugged Wayne Newton, and Larry tells him that’s still not how pregnancy works.

Dave Minor has come by to invite Larry and Balki to Wayne’s suite, and clarifies that this is not for anything ███, perish the very thought. Larry turns down the offer.

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Come on, Larry, everything is working for you here, lean into this! It’s already the case that every sitcom character asks for clarification of something remotely funny that someone else said, and Balki talks real loud too! He misunderstands everything people say! You’ve worked so hard this week, take the rest of the episode off and let Balki have his deaf comedy jam!

Philip pointed out back in “Weekend at Ferdinand’s” that Perfect Strangers neglected to have a payoff for a repeated bit it set up, where everyone had to prostrate themselves in front of the King. It’s missing them left and right here. We’ve gotten two jokes about bellboys, lots of bed-flopping (though, hey, stay tuned, maybe █████ ██ █████ ███ ████ Wayne!), and two instances of covering up mouths/noses here.

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Sure, there’s a little character differentiation here–Larry and Balki both give away their true feelings, and Larry (the adult) tries to cover his up, and must also cover Balki’s (the child’s), in front of others–and normally I’d give you 700 words on it, throw in some references to silence and bodily control as markers of maturity and class (going as deep as bollards vs stanchions if I needed to), as negotiating tactics, bring in Proverbs 17:28, and wrap up the argument as tight as a ███████ ███, but if the show isn’t willing to do anything with the pieces it introduces, neither am I.

Larry barely tries to convince Balki to not go, and I’m not even sure why this scene is as long as it is, why Larry doesn’t just whisper to Dave Minor not to bring up Balki’s handicap. And maybe this is a bigger question about episodes with guest stars like Wayne Newton: is the pacing of the episode dictated by how long the network can get the guest star to be on screen?

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If you can only get Carl Lewis for 90 seconds, do you basically have to write Balki standing still for the same length of time?  Did we get the same scene twice in the first act because Wayne was doing 8 shows that week instead of 7?

Anyway, Larry tells Balki to worship from afar, and Balki says he’d rather worship from aclose, which is a good line.

If only we had even just a couple more characters who didn’t have to be here in Wayne’s suite, who could be somewhere else in Vegaaahhsss, characters who might, say, amusingly misunderstand casino slang*, or who, oh idunno, knew other people in Vegas. If only!

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Anyway, what the fuck, who cares, the only thing that’s important from the first half of the episode is that Larry lied about Balki being deaf. We’re finally here in the room where Wayne Newton keeps all his friends, bronze andirons aclose near gold strip curtain afar, silent bluehued waiter serving only Coors Light, waiting while they wait, bronze aclose near gold afar, they waited for the jingle jaunty Vegas boy.

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Larry and Balki, in their inexquisite contrast, cuz from aclose close to cuz from afar, enter, and Balki runs around ███████████ all of the objects in the room which Wayne probably rarely uses. He fawns over the couch, the cushions of which the hotel staff must flip constantly to hide Wayne Tootin’, ███████ the piano ten men died toting up the stairs, and wonders aloud why there isn’t an Arabian horse dying on the carpet.

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Balki sees red roses and GOD DAMMIT why does he not single out one of the wait staff as a “blue lady”? Quit setting things up and not following through!

Thankfully, we don’t get a 10-minute sequence of Balki asking every woman if she’s named Shirl or Laura Lee, and Wayne Newton shows up, thankfully not played by Bronson with a spray tan, thankfully here with half an episode to spare, fresh from █████ ███ █████████ walks in Wayne Newton.

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When first he sees that form endearing, Balki faints, falling backwards, showing us why there was a couch facing away from the piano in the first place.

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Larry tries to get Balki to leave and, failing that, attempts the Karana Mudra technique to help dispel Balki’s anxiety.

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The choice of title for this episode has me curious to know if the original concept in the writers’ room–like the inflatable doll in “Car Tunes”–was a little cruder, a little meaner.

I get the impression, from watching 1980s sitcoms, that writers were trying to find ways to break the “nice” tone they had to maintain whenever they could. The Tanners could dump on Kimmy Gibbler and still learn heartwarming lessons. Carl Winslow might have to apologize to Steve Urkel by the end of every episode, but he still got to put him down in the first act. On the other end of the spectrum, Fox was giving the spotlight to characters like the Bundys, who were openly vicious to each other, which I’m sure was a much-needed panacea at the time. (It’s Garry Shandling’s Show emerges as the responsible middle ground, as the lead character always made his remarks as asides to the audience.) Full House, Family Matters, and ALF didn’t have the good sense to not have the “respectable” characters not insult the less fortunate to their faces.

Season 7 of Perfect Strangers lays out all the pieces for its characters to utilize each other’s weaknesses in openly cruel ways, but pulls its punches. Jennifer having a secret sticks out as discordant here, when it could be a running bit (or her trying to stay one step ahead of Larry’s scheming, like in “This New House”). Mary Anne’s lack of mental faculties could be something that comically shields her from realizing just how mean to her Balki really is. Those would require writing for women, though, so I get why we don’t see that.

But I have to wonder if the original idea was for Larry to present Balki as semi-retarded. It fits just slightly better than pretending he’s deaf. I’m not exactly complaining, because the fallout would be that much worse for Larry. If that’s was how it started, I doubt the idea even left the writers’ room; I think they revised it without anyone telling them they had to. It’s not a bad thing that a sitcom chooses a nicer path than some of its contemporaries would, and this episode argues for its lasting appeal to fans who wish television were still this quaint.

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I really can’t complain, because Balki and Wayne Newton shouting at each other is actually pretty great.

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█████ ████ █████.

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Just so you know that the show thought of doing it, Balki says Wayne Newton song titles at Wayne Newton.

We’re here with Wayne, they wrote story for Wayne Newton, Wayne Newton was willing to do it, and still Larry and Balki walk three feet away to talk for no good reason.

Then Balki shouts at Wayne that his mother was raised on Wayne’s music, and shouldn’t that be insulting to him?** Balki turned 25 in 1989, and Wayne had his first hits in 1963; am I supposed to believe that Mama’s only in her early 40s? It can’t even be the case that Bronson is channeling his own experience here, because–best I can tell–his mother was born in 1928.

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Balki keeps pushing Wayne and saying “go on with you” until Wayne beats him up, just like he threatened to do to Johnny Carson when Carson said █████ ███ █████ █████████ █████. ████████ █████, but ███ █████! ████ he ███ ██ ███ ███████ ██ █████ ██ █████████ in ████████ ████ Vegaaaaahhhhhssss. █████ ██ ███████ ███ Wayne’s ████ ██████ ███ ██ ██████ █ █████ █ to ████ ██. ███████ █ ████ █ █████ ███ ████████ █████ ███████ ██████, you know, if ███ ██████ ██████ ██████ █████ ████ ██ ██ ███. ██████████, ███████ ███ ███ █ ████ ██████ ██████████ █████ non-Newtonian fluid █████ ███ ███████ ███ ███████ ██ ███ █████████ ██ ██ ███ █████. But really, that makes sense, because ██████ ██ █ ███ ██████ ██, I ████ ████ █████ ███ (not to mention ███████████) practices as described in Fernand Braudel’s La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen à L’Epoque de Philippe II. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when Balki recounts the time he ██████ ███ ████ ██ █ hillside ███ ███ █████ ██████ and ████ ████ ███ █ ███ ██ ██████ ███████ little sheep that cried.

Balki asks Wayne his thoughts on being in Juice Newton’s sleeve–

Nah, j/k, that’s too deep a cut even for this blog, let’s do one more recent: Balki tells Wayne all about his own music career–

Nah, j/k, Wayne mentions Balki’s imminent deafness, and Larry quickly (and ██████) throws a coat over Balki’s head and pretends his ears are Balki’s ears.

Aside from the █████, the ███ ████████, and the ███ ██████ ███, I’m surprised that a singer with Wayne Newton’s long career and level of fame hasn’t become a set of facts like Elvis Presley. 100% of the factoids I’ve mentioned are things I learned reading up on him for this review. Without that, I would have just said “lives in Vegas, appears on sitcoms for Vegas episodes”. The main difference is that Elvis died young and troubled, which I believe psychologically makes his story incomplete.*** It’s not that there aren’t things you could say about Wayne. But if you’re going to talk about Vegas singers with mob ties, he’s in Frank Sinatra’s shadow. If you want to talk Vegas personalities and plastic surgery, Carrot Top. And we’ve got enough bankruptcy for one blog just with Bronson.

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I get the impression Wayne Newton is just a performer who knows how to work an audience and who’s generally got his shit together, and the negative things you can point out are just par for the course for a career that long. He could have agreed to be on this show for just one scene, for just a couple of minutes, but he was willing to be as big a part of the Perfect Strangers world as he was for Balki’s world. Whatever success he has, I’m sure he’s earned. (I can’t say the same for Carrot Top, and I actually enjoy Carrot Top.)

There’s a solid moment that encapsulates the show’s current relationship with being mean and is hilarious besides. Larry, more straightfaced than Mark usually plays him when lying, seizes on an opportunity–

Larry: I told Wayne you were going deaf.

Balki: Why didn’t you tell me sooner?

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Larry: Balki… I wanted to tell you sooner.

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–and then immediately pulls back from it. Balki is upset that Larry lied to Wayne. Balki. Buddy. He’s a celebrity. People have been lying to him for years.

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Here it is, y’all, let’s get the makeup person on set to rub some petroleum jelly under his eyes, here’s Balki’s three-times-per-season emotional moment.

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Wayne asks everyone to put down their Coors for a moment and applaud his very special guest for the evening.

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Larry, acting as the father figure, is ashamed for his surrogate son to see that his generation has failed in upholding the American dream of believing that celebrities are infallible, and thus unfoolable. His desire to restore Balki’s faith in lounge singers actually loving you, personally, for who you are, moves Cousin Larry enough to testify about the false cover story for getting in.

And the payoff is great, a rarity for Perfect Strangers, where it gets to have its emotional moment and still undercut by showing you that Larry was too vague, and too self-important: Wayne demands that the war veteran he was introducing be shown the door.

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Larry clarifies, and Balki leaves, too embarrassed to talk, and runs from the room.

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Later, Larry doesn’t wonder at all where Jennifer went, and waited until their bags were packed and taken down to the desk, the bed made and the floor vacuumed, to apologize to Balki. Balki stops just short of thanking Larry and says it was wonderful to meet Wayne.

Wayne shows up and says his catchphrase–

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–causing Balki to fall backwards again. Look, Wayne, can’t I make ███ jokes if Balki is swooning the same way women do?

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Wayne says that, of all the thousands of Balkis who send him letters, he finally realized that this is the one who has been sending him letters for the past 15 years. He asks after Mama’s health, but sadly, Mama Bartokomous is still alive.

Balki says that Mama went back to school and joined the cheerleading squad. I knew you all wanted to think about Mama’s heaving embonpoint again, you’re welcome.

Wayne, sweating profusely, erodes the initial scenario by inviting Balki to see his show that night, where he’ll sing him a special song. Balki pesters him with the standard list of 15 Wayne Newton song titles until Wayne reveals it will be “Danke Schoen”. The fuck? One of the only things I’ve ever “known” about Wayne Newton is that he’s sung that song almost every day for 50 years. It’s not some prize he closely guards and takes on out the most special of occasions.

Bronson, frantic to get his share of physical comedy in, does a lot more fainting bullshit and then runs away.

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Perfect Strangers comes right up to the line of punching throughout this episode, only to pull back at the last moment. Here, it comes right up to the edge of–what’s the opposite of a punch? a caress?–and once again pulls back. Wayne tells Cousin Larry that he was touched by his dedication to his friend’s wishes that he would lie for him. Larry has his shining moment of vindication, and no one’s around to see it; Balki has to remain deaf to it to maintain his stunted moral sense. There are some lines the show just won’t cross.

Balki runs back in and jumps ██ ████ ███████ ████.

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Under the credits, they all sing “Danke Schoen”, and there’s a nice little moment where Balki overdoes the jazz hands and Wayne mimics him.

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vegaaaaaaahhhhhhhssssssss

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Join me next week for a special post!

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Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0); Wayne (2; he also says “get out of the city”)

█████ █████: █████ ███; █████ ███; █████ ███

Unused Larryoke Countdown #14: “Red █████ for a Blue Larry” – Wayne Newton

*Mary Anne is so dumb she complained to the pit boss for not giving Monty enough cards.

**Shouldn’t it, Wayne, this and not me saying █████ █████████ ███ ███?

***This is all armchair psych, but I think incompleteness leads to focus on details. Think fan reaction to The Force Awakens, one chapter of a story, or fan theories for ongoing television programs, book series, etc. In comics, you’re forced to fill in gaps between panels, and that’s how they work; but that urge to completeness hampers what I think the intended experience is for something like, say, The Venture Bros.

 

dimitri0717

6 thoughts on “Season 7, Episode 17: Wayne Man

  1. So the writing is sub-par, as seems to be the case in season 7, but I like that payoff that they’ve been saying Balki is a Wayne Newton fan for years, and then they got Wayne Newton as a guest star. I feel like that’s a nice check mark on wrapping up the show.

    Also, I can never pronounce the name of the city or the cookie properly again. Thanks, Bronson.

    Like

  2. So, does Wayne Newton have a law firm scouring the internet for disparaging commentary? Who is nimble enough to send a cease-and-desist letter within minutes of a blog being posted? Were they just WAITING for you to review this episode? (Or is this just part of the gag and I’ve fallen for it?)

    Like

    • I worked at a university once where someone in their advertising/marketing office had search alerts set up for all of its prominent people so it could advertise their accomplishments (also important to schools with football teams in case they get arrested), and this was how we all found out that the vice-president had interviewed somewhere else.

      I’ve seen this guy’s ads before on the interstate. “Want to get even? Call J. Stephen!”

      Like

  3. I can’t be the only one who went to “View Source” on the off-chance that the redactions were just CSS-sorcery. I guess Wayne Newton’s lawyers would see through that.

    Like

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